It’s much less pompous to review the past year than to preview the next. There’s commendably little vanity involved, if one does it right; and a constructive look back can also be instructive. So in that spirit, I give you the truly good, the truly bad, and the truly ugly from India in 2015.
First the good:
* Modi proved himself India’s most internationalist PM since Nehru. Unlike Nehru’s, Modi’s foreign relations are not preachy or sentimental, but are a hardheaded quest for national advantage. Where Nehru offered the world a postcolonial India with its awkward neuroses and principles, a post-nonalignment Modi looks at the world as he would at an a la carte menu, picking from platters that best suit his hunger for national security. Japan and the US were embraced; Russia was reassured, and ties with Britain boosted; China got the clear jolt of a new Indian confidence; and friendship was strengthened with Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
* Asha Devi did India a mighty cultural and social service by speaking aloud in public the name of her daughter, Jyoti Singh, whom we’d come to know, lazily, as “Nirbhaya.” In doing so, she returned dignity and identity to the victim of a most heinous gangrape, while striking a blow against patriarchal taboos.
* For long India’s Cinderella-sport, hockey bounced cricket off the headlines when India’s men won a bronze in the World League, the first medal in a global competition in 33 years. The defeat of Holland in the 3rd-place playoff was a gorgeous, blissful national tonic.
Next the bad:
* Economic reform continues to suffer from a lack of responsible focus. Modi has let India down, preferring rhetoric to action. He needs to find some real “doers” in his Cabinet and articulate an economic strategy that creates jobs, fixes the diseased banking system, cuts down the size of government, slashes subsidies, privatises the public sector, and cuts the budget deficit. Oh, and VAT and a national bankruptcy code would be useful, too.
* The shafting of Nepal has to count as Modi’s worst blunder to date. It was insane to sacrifice relations with our friendliest neighbour for the sake of a few extra votes in Bihar — which the BJP didn’t get, anyway. Nepal was kicked into China’s orbit in a grotesque own-goal.
* The defeat in the Lok Sabha of Shashi Tharoor’s Bill to decriminalise homosexuality confirms Indian society as fundamentally retrograde. We can no longer blame Victorian Britain for our moral and sexual intolerance. Want humbug? Make in India!
Finally, the ugly:
* The public decomposition of the Congress party has been an embarrassment to Indian democracy. Just when India needs a strong, secular national Opposition, its oldest party has shrunk to the size of a rancorous, dynasty-ridden, brainless political midget. The Gandhi family has become gangrene. Its amputation is the only answer.
Fetch a doctor!
* The acquittal of actor Salman Khan in the homicide of a homeless man has laid bare a truth that India has known since Independence: there is naked impunity from criminal responsibility for the country’s rich and famous. The Bombay High Court’s verdict is a source of stomach-churning shame.
* Stomach-churning, too, was the lynching in Uttar Pradesh of Mohammad Akhlaq, a Muslim man, on suspicion of eating beef. The place of his killing, Dadri, will go down in India’s long list of theatres of atrocity. As of this despondent writing, the Prime Minister has yet to man up to a clear condemnation of the murder.
The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.